Plant Proteins: a value-added opportunity

Highlights

  • Plant-based protein is in high demand and is the fastest-growing food processing in Canadian ag.
  • Pea processing plants announced for Moose Jaw, Sask. and Portage la Prairie, Man.
  • Demand for plant-based protein is driven by clean labels and allergen concerns

The growing market for plant-based protein is changing the agricultural landscape.

Late last year, a $75-million pea fractionation plant was announced for Moose Jaw, Sask. A few months later, a $400-million pea processing plant was announced for Portage la Prairie, Man.

The Moose Jaw plant is being built by Canadian Protein Innovation with investment from a German agribusiness. The Portage la Prairie facility involves a family firm from France called Roquette. The company says it will be the largest facility in the world dedicated to pea processing.

“It’s unprecedented to see a $400-million investment in food processing,” says Gord Bacon, president of Pulse Canada. He says additional announcements are anticipated, with the investments showing the enormous interest that has emerged around plant protein.

All too often the extra land creates a time crunch at seeding and/or harvest. If yields are reduced, it will increase the cost of producing each bushel.

“Consumers equate protein as desirable,” Bacon notes. “The wave is driven by demand for high-protein foods, and the new pulse interest is driven by allergen concerns, functionality and clean labels.”

A clean label means an ingredient list that consumers can pronounce and ingredients that sound naturally derived. Big food companies are scrambling to remove artificial preservatives and ingredients that consumers see as highly processed.

A great deal of work has gone into plant-based protein for many decades. Depending on the country, to achieve a protein claim on food labels a concentrated form of protein is often required when the serving size is small. The food science behind it all is complicated with different food functionality from different particle sizes.

Protein isolates come from many different crop and livestock sources. The yellow peas that will be used in the newly announced plants in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are non-GMO, in abundant supply and a relatively low price for the protein that can be extracted.

Proponents such as Dennis McKnight, president of The Innovators Inc. out of Vancouver, believe Canada has the potential to become a world leader in plant-based proteins and specialty food ingredients. Speaking last April to the Global Crops Symposium in Calgary, McKnight said this is a value-added opportunity that complements our production and export of commodity pulses, grains and oilseeds.

The technology continues to advance with major investors becoming involved and a high level of research and development. Many highly skilled jobs are being created.

When you think of food processing, what automatically comes to mind is meat packing, cheese, yogurt, flour milling and pasta production. The fastest growth in food processing is actually in plant-based proteins and specialty food ingredients.

Food companies are responding to consumer preferences and the benefits will accrue all the way along the value chain, creating additional domestic demand for Canadian crops. 

From an AgriSuccess article (September 2017) by Kevin Hursh